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Nerdist Book Club: DUNE, Part 1

Two weeks ago, we announced the title for the next edition of Nerdist Book Club: Dune by Frank Herbert. Dune is one of those books I find myself revisiting again and again. I’ve read the whole thing through at least twice, and I’ve gone back to certain passages several times. I use the “Litany Against Fear” to clear my head and often think about the journey of Paul Atreides. Whether you’re reading Dune for the first time or the tenth time, I’m happy you’re here. Let’s dive in.

What happened

The first 65 pages of Dune don’t pause for a minute. Herbert uses words deliberately and rarely wastes them. You know how you can let your eyes wander ahead and skim some books? Dune is not like that. You can’t risk missing anything. So much of the world of Dune—the politics, the structure, geography, names—is dropped into sentences naturally (perfectly, actually) that you have to read closely. Be prepared for me to gush about the fictional place Herbert has created repeatedly.

As the excerpt from “Manual of Muad’dib” states, “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” The sentiment applies to the beginning of Dune. This is the time of the book to take care, to make introductions, and Herbert doesn’t miss a bit. We meet the Atreides, the Harkonnens, the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit, and Mentats. We learn of Fremen and sandworms. We meet a host of characters. The information pours in but is never too much or too heavy. The primary arcs are laid out, as are more buried threads.

Perhaps one of the biggest points made in the opening pages is the importance of Paul Atreides and his mother, Jessica. Not the Duke—we don’t encounter him just yet—but these two. The Reverend Mother arrives on Caladan when the Atreides family is in a state of transition. They’re nearly ready to leave for Arrakis, a desert planet painted as harsh on the best of days, hostile on the worst. The Reverend Mother is there to test Paul, and in her conversations with Paul and with Jessica, you glean knowledge about the Bene Gesserit. Jessica wasn’t supposed to bear the Duke a boy (by the way, being a concubine in this world is nothing to blink at), but this boy might be the Kwisatz Haderach. In short, a Chosen One.

Paul is tested with the Gom Jabbar, and his encounter with the box of pain is one of the most memorable scenes in all of Dune. It says much about the intensity of the Bene Gesserit and shows you the stakes of Paul’s current situation. He’s prepared because of his mother though. She’s taught him and so has Gurney Halleck, Thufir Hawat, and Dr. Yueh—meeting the stable of teachers shows different facets of Paul’s personality and also the privilege of his upbringing.

It also shows you who House Atreides has on its side as they move to Arrakis. The transition isn’t without risks. The depth of Baron Harkonnen’s greed is shown over the course a few pages. He’s hungry for power, he’s ruthless, and he has a layered plan. This is the world of Dune: Dangerous, deceptive, daring, and probably another “d” word I can’t think of at the moment.

Atreides Allies by Kristele Pelland

Favorite quotes

This section could easily become everything from Princess Irulan’s writings, but I promise I’ll try to avoid that. Key word being try.

“Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place.”

“Mood’s a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It’s not for fighting.”

“Observe the plans within plans within plans.”

I’m not going to re-type the Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” here, but it’s one of my favorite things about Dune. I memorized it and recite it in my head whenever I’m feeling panicky.

Discussion questions

– From what we learn of the Bene Gesserit’s abilities, do you see them as being based in science or something supernatural?
– Do you think it was right for Jessica to put her son in harm’s way? Do you think she had a choice?
– How do you feel about learning so early on that Dr. Yueh is the traitor?
– Did you have any expectations before you picked up Dune and how is the book living up to those expectations so far?

Bonus material

Dune coloring book – This coloring book is based on the 1984 Dune, and it is priceless and not so much appropriate for children.

DIY Dune Pain box – For those of you who want to test the extent of your humanity, you can follow one man’s attempts to duplicate the burning effects of the pain box with the thermal grill illusion.

It’s been a little while since I’ve read Dune, and I was pleasantly surprised by how the story moved along. The opening pages dump stacks of worldbuilding bits and pieces into your lap while still being digestible and light. Not like, say, The Silmarillion. It’s apparent so early on that Herbert has created a rich world, a world I don’t want to stop exploring, and few books achieve such scope so quickly. Ahhh. Guys, I’m excited about the next twelve weeks.

What are your impressions of the first chapters of Dune? Head to the comments and let me know your initial reactions, answer discussion questions if you want, ask your own questions–basically anything Dune-related you want to talk about. If you want to chat about the book on social media, use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag to connect with other readers.

Come back next Monday, June 29, to discuss Part 2, pages 66-132.

Featured Image Powered by DeviantArt // Artist: Nathan Anderson

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